Charles Tholen

CHARLES THOLEN, who came to Kansas in 1857, was for a long period of years a recognized force in the professional and civic life of Leavenworth and was especially a leader among the German element of the city. He was a pioneer lawyer and had come to Kansas when it was still a territory and was first identified with Leavenworth as an employe of the fort.

He was born at Emden in the Province of Hanover, Germany, January 28, 1827. He came of a prominent family and was given unusual advantages and training as a youth. His father, Class Tholen, was a banker and also in the transportation business, both as an exporter and importer. Charles Tholen was given the same name as his father, but in America the pronunciation was apparently difficult and was readily confused with the name Charles, so that he finally adopted the cognomen Charles and as such was everywhere known.

Besides a liberal literary education, he learned the business in which his father was engaged, and when he came to this country he was master of five modern languages, which he could speak fluently.

Crossing the Atlantic in the early '50s, Charles Tholen found his first work as a clerk in a bank at Baltimore. While living in that city he married Elizabeth Ogden. Their oldest child, Agnes, was born at Baltimore.

In 1857 he sought a home on practically the verge of the western frontier. He first lived at Lawrence, Kansas, but about the beginning of the Civil war moved to Leavenworth. There he found employment in the commissary department of the fort. About 1860 his brother, William M., joined him from the old country. William had been here only a short time before he evinced the deepest sympathy for the cause of the Union and was one of the committee to entertain Abraham Lincoln at the Planter's Hotel. Later he recruited a company for the war and entered the service as a captain.

During the greater part of the war Charles Tholen remained in the commissary department at Fort Leavenworth. In the meantime he began the study of law with James McCann, an old time lawyer of Leavenworth. Admitted to the bar, he thenceforward concentrated all his varied business experience and personal talent upon the practice of his profession. He was one of the prominent attorneys of his day in Leavenworth and that was a great distinction, since the old Leavenworth bar contained some of the finest legal minds of Kansas. Many of the important cases that came up in the last half of the preceding century had Charles Tholen on one side or the other as an advocate.

During his earlier life in America he was a stanch republican, but subsequently became an equally ardent democrat. By reason of his long service as a justice of the peace he was familiarly known as Squire Tholen. He was noted for his absolute independence and fearlessness in action and thinking. The story has often been told that when he was justice of the peace Phil Sheridan, the famous Union general, was brought before him for fast driving in Leavenworth. Squire Tholen was in no way awed by the imposing dignitary before him and promptly fined the general.

He had the absolute confidence of all classes and the German people of the city looked to him both as an adviser and legal counselor and for years their legal papers were made out chiefly in his office. He is remembered also as a great lover of hunting and fishing. His home was a rendezvous for kindred spirits, and many of his good friends delighted to gather about his fireside, enjoy his hospitality, and talk over mutual experiences. He was a member of the Lutheran Church, joined the Odd Fellows organization, and was a member of the Turn Verein.

Charles Tholen died in 1899, at the age of seventy-two, after a residence of more than forty years in Kansas. His wife had passed away in 1878. They were the parents of eight children. The three now living are: Clara, Mrs. W. A. Rose; Webster W. and William A. The two sons have long been associated in the plumbing and heating business at Leavenworth. Webster W., who was born at Leavenworth July 14, 1864, was educated in the city schools and in 1887 joined his brother, who was then a member of the firm of Flynn & Company. In 1892 the firm of Tholen Brothers was organized, and they are at once among the oldest and best known firms in their line in the city. Webster W. Tholen married in 1889 Myra M. Olive. Their two children are Charles W. and Olive Alice.

William A. Tholen was born at Leavenworth August 12, 1867, had the advantages of the local schools, and as a young man became an apprentice at the plumbing trade with George Kauffmann & Company. In 1886 he started in business for himself as a partner of Henry Flynn and in 1892 he and his brother organized the firm of Tholen Brothers. On October 28, 1891, he married Belle Murray. The Tholen Brothers are independent in political actions, though with democratic leanings. Both are members of the Masonic fraternity.


A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written & compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; transcribed by Jeremy McElhaney, student from USD 508, Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, 1-28-99.

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